A bill to create an incentive to bring the Washington Commanders NFL team to Virginia is dead after months of accumulating concerns over tax breaks, traffic, the team’s brand quality, and its controversial leadership. On Thursday, bill sponsor Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax) told The Washington Post that the final issue was Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s comments about the January 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol.
Del Rio had tweeted about 2020’s “summer of riots,” and in followup comments recorded by NBC Washington, he said, “Businesses are being burned down. No problem. And then we have a dust-up at the Capitol, nothing burned down, and we’re not gonna talk about – we’re going to make that a major deal. I just think it’s kind of two standards.”
Del Rio later published an apology: “Referencing that situation as a dust-up was irresponsible and negligent and I am sorry.”
House Appropriations Chair Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) sponsored the House legislation.
“I’m totally behind Senator Saslaw for not moving forward with the bill this year. I think they need some time to get their house in order,” Knight said, emphasizing that he’s more concerned with the dollars-and-cents aspect of the deal.
“Now, I’m not going to spin my wheels worried about it now, until maybe next year and we’ll see if the climate’s changed any whatsoever,” he said.
Earlier in the year, Saslaw, Governor Glenn Youngkin, and some other politicians expressed enthusiasm about bringing the team to Virginia. At the same time, there were also concerns ranging from the teams’ workplace sexual harassment scandals to questions from Republicans about whether or not offering the team a deal actually made sense. Delegate Danica Roem (D-Manassas) is opposed because of traffic impacts on I-95. Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) recently came out in opposition due to questions about the team’s brand quality after changing its name.
After Del Rio’s comments, Senators Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William) and Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax), and Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) tweeted their concerns about the bill.
Some Republicans were never enthusiastic about the legislation. Knight said he never sought out the bill. He said Republican leadership asked him to vet the proposal, and that the only reason it got majority support in the House was because he assured the Republican caucus that he wouldn’t agree to a compromise with the Senate that was a bad deal for Virginia.
For him, a key measurement of whether or not to support a bill was if the deal offered to the Commanders made more money in revenue for Virginia after tax cuts than the best other potential uses for the land. Knight summarized that the Senate’s legislation would have been worth about $1 billion in incentives for the team, but that the House version would have offered about $200 million. Knight said they never completed a compromise, but by the end, the Senate negotiators were in the $200 million range.
“I was skeptical the whole time,” Knight said. “I had not made a decision, but I was very skeptical. But then when Senator Saslaw said he didn’t want to move forward, because maybe the straw that broke the camel’s back yesterday with Del Rio, or maybe not for that particular reason but maybe because of my skepticism on the finances, I’m totally okay with it.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Richard Saslaw” by Bc979. CC BY-SA 4.0. Background Photo “FedEx Field” by All-Pro Reels. CC BY-SA 2.0.